Mdvl-Weddngs-art - 3/16/12
"Weddings in Medieval Times" by Lady Katharine of Caithness.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
Weddings in Medieval Times
by Lady Katharine of Caithness
Faith was ever present in everyday medieval life. Marriage was the province of the church and the sacrament of matrimony was not only central to Christian doctrine but also to cementing family alliances as well.
By today's standards the brides were very young average age by the age of 14 years. Grooms were older sometimes by as much as 15 years. Noble women with the ever-shifting alliances sometimes didn't marry until the age of 24. In a society where more than three-quarters were married by the age of nineteen, at 24 they could be considered old maids.
Weddings meant not only two people were getting married, but two families were merging. With nobility, marriage was more of a business arrangement. During the Middle Ages marriage laws began to evolve. This was for the protection of both bride and groom. With the Council of Westminster in 1076 it was decreed that no man should give his daughter or female relative to anyone without "priestly blessing". A later council would decree that marriages should not be performed in secret but held in the open. In the 16th century the council of Trent decreed a priest would be required to perform the ceremony of the betrothal. Contracts were drawn up concerning the bride's dowry and jointure. The dowry was money the bride brought to the marriage and the jointure was the settlement she received if her husband died before she did. While divorce was not tolerated, separation was, and marriages between those too closely related could be annulled.
Among the nobility, arranged marriages were the norm. Bride and groom would be betrothed as early as infancy and as late as 10 years old. Many a marriage took place without the happy couple meeting until the day of the wedding years later. The purpose of marriage between nobles was the acquisition of property and wealth. Marriage ceremonies may have taken place in the castle or manor house of the groom's family. In the early Middle Ages, the Catholic Church allowed this as long as the couple later had their union blessed by a priest later that year. With the middle and peasant class, arranged marriages were also common, though less frequently among the peasant class. The objectives were the same as with the nobility, to enhance the family fortune and increase land holdings. Peasant weddings were often the result of a love match and the result of pregnancy. Rings could be exchanged among the upper classes but with them being so expensive, not many other than nobles could afford them. One tradition was that a coin was broken in half and one half given to the bride the other to the groom. Instead of throwing rice as we do today, the wedding guests would shower or sprinkle the couple with seeds or grains of wheat to wish them a large family.
Wedding feasts were the receptions of the day. No matter which social class one came from, a celebration of the union was held after the ceremonies. A feast would include roast goose or venison, and fish. Custards and tarts were served along with flavored bread and stewed cabbage. Wine and ale were served along with mead, beer and milk. Water was seldom served, as one could never be sure if it was drinkable or not.
The wedding cake has its origins in a Roman wedding tradition of breaking a small loaf of bread over the bride's head for fertility. This evolved into guests in the medieval times of baking small cakes, bringing them to the wedding feast and stacking them on top of each other. The bride and groom would then try to kiss over the top of the cakes without tipping them over for luck and prosperity.
In medieval times there were no formal wedding dresses as we think of them today. The bride most likely did not wear white. Blue was the traditional color of purity. Often a blue ribbon would be worn by both the bride and groom, the bride's dress could be any color. The upper classes usually had new garb made for the marriage. In the case of the other classes, it would be sometimes new or usually their best clothes. Fabric varied with trade. From the Far East came silk reserved for the upper class. Linen was used by the rest. The tradition of flowers was brought back by returning crusaders. The Saracens had a tradition of weaving orange blossoms into a crown wreath. Flowers were made into a wreath and placed in the bride's hair, which would be the only time she wore her hair loose. Sometimes brides would carry a small bouquet of herbs for luck and fertility.
In an age where wedding planners were nonexistent and marriage was not just a commitment between two people but more of a business merger, it's a wonder that anyone got married at all.
Copyright 2011 by Kathleem May. <kathleenklmpub at yahoo.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited. Addresses change, but a reasonable attempt should be made to ensure that the author is notified of the publication and if possible receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.